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Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Ranking quarterbacks in the NFC West

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

John Clayton's quarterback rankings invites discussion and further analysis.

"An elite quarterback is one who can complete better than 60 percent of his passes, has the potential to throw for 4,000 yards and has fourth-quarter comeback ability," Clayton writes.

I'll pass along his rankings for NFC West quarterbacks, complete with his comments and mine (see also this earlier analysis featuring Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.):

Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks

Clayton league rank: 17

Clayton comment: A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Hasselbeck lost his elite status because of two seasons getting rocked behind bad offensive lines. Hasselbeck is the one hope Pete Carroll has for challenging for the NFC West title.

Chance of being elite: 25 percent, according to Clayton

Mike Sando: We'll have a much better feel for how this season might go after Hasselbeck faces the San Francisco 49ers in the regular-season opener, probably without left tackle Russell Okung. Hasselbeck appears confident in the new coaching staff's scheming ability. He mentioned coordinator Jeremy Bates and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch by name during a recent news conference when I asked Hasselbeck about scheming around Okung's potential absence. I took that as a sign of respect. Scheming goes only so far, however, and problems on the offensive line could still endanger and/or limit Hasselbeck this season. Seattle fans can be cautiously optimistic.


Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

Clayton league rank: 21

Clayton comment: It's hard to believe this is Smith's sixth season. The pressure is on him to get the 49ers to the playoffs. He has not lived up to his No. 1 billing in the draft, obviously, but the surrounding cast is good enough to make a playoff run. One of the faults I noticed when I saw him in the preseason is that he doesn't always hit receivers in stride.

Chance of being elite: zero percent, according to Clayton

Mike Sando: Project Smith's 2009 numbers across 500 attempts and you'd get a quarterback completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,158 yards, with 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He would need substantial improvement to reach Clayton's elite parameters from a statistical standpoint. There's also no evidence Smith can consistently demonstrate fourth-quarter comeback ability. He had one touchdown pass with three interceptions last season in fourth quarters of close games (point disparity no greater than seven). Smith did post a 91.4 rating with five touchdowns and two interceptions in the final two minutes of the halves, but he has much to prove when games are on the line.


Matt Leinart or Derek Anderson

Clayton league rank: 28

Clayton comment: Analysis: For Anderson, this is a chance to rebuild his career after tough seasons in Cleveland in 2008 and 2009. He's not very accurate, never completing more than 60 percent of his passes in a season in the NFL. For Leinart, this is the end of the line with the Cardinals after this season if he doesn't regain a starting job he had no business losing.

Chance of being elite: zero percent, according to Clayton

Mike Sando: What about Max Hall? I'm half-joking, but given the uncertainty heading into this season, and given Leinart's recent statements questioning Ken Whisenhunt's motives, it's natural to wonder how many quarterbacks the Cardinals might run through this season. Anderson's low career completion percentages suggest he'll have a hard time recapturing past Pro Bowl form. Leinart has completed better than 80 percent of his passes during the exhibition season, but those completions haven't breathed much life into the offense.


Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams

Clayton league rank: 30

Clayton comment: What amazes Rams management about Bradford is his accuracy and how calm he seems in the pocket. Unfortunately, his rookie season will be tough because St. Louis lacks big-play receivers and the offensive line is struggling.

Mike Sando: The low ranking for Bradford reflects his inexperience and supporting cast in St. Louis. It's not a stretch to think Bradford could charge up this list over the course of the season, however. Every team in the NFC West would probably trade its current starter for Bradford. Of course, talented quarterbacks are always appealing before they've had a chance to play.